Author: Mike Murray BSc (Hons) MSc PhD AMICE SFHEA (Senior Teaching Fellow in Construction Management, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of Strathclyde). 

Topic: Links between education for sustainable development (ESD) and intercultural competence. 

Tool type: Teaching. 

Engineering disciplines: Civil; Any. 

Keywords: AHEP; Sustainability; Student support; Local community; Higher education; Assessment; Pedagogy; Education for sustainable development; Internationalisation; Global reach; Global responsibility; EDI. 
Sustainability competency: Self-awareness; Collaboration; Critical thinking.

AHEP mapping: This resource addresses two of the themes from the UK’s Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this resource to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

Related SDGs: SDG 4 (Quality education); SDG 16 (Peace, justice, and strong institutions). 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: More real-world complexity; Active pedagogies and mindset development; Authentic assessment.

Educational level: Beginner. 


Learning and teaching notes: 

This resource describes a coursework aligned to three key pedagogical approaches of ESD. (1) It positions the students as autonomous learners (learner-centred); (2) who are engaged in action and reflect on their experiences (action-oriented); and (3) empowers and challenges learners to alter their worldviews (transformative learning). Specifically, it requires students to engage in collaborative peer learning (Einfalt, Alford, and Theobald 2022; UNESCO 2021). The coursework is an innovative Assessment for Learning” (AfL) (Sambell, McDowell, and Montgomery, 2013) internationalisation at home (Universities UK, 2021) group and individual assessment for first-year civil & environmental engineers enrolled on two programmes (BEng (Hons) / MEng Civil Engineering & BEng (Hons) / MEng Civil & Environmental Engineering). However, the coursework could easily be adapted to any other engineering discipline by shifting the theme of the example subjects. With a modification on the subjects, there is potential to consider engineering components / artifacts / structures, such as naval vessels / aeroplanes / cars, and a wide number of products and components that have particular significance to a country (i.e., Swiss Army Knife).

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 


Learning and teaching resources: 



There have been several calls to educate the global engineer through imbedding people and planet issues in the engineering curriculum (Bourn and Neal, 2008; Grandin and Hirleman 2009). Students should be accepting of this practice given that prospective freshers are ‘positively attracted by the possibility of learning alongside people from the rest of the world’ (Higher Education Policy Unit, 2015:4). Correspondingly, ‘international students often report that an important reason in their decision to study abroad is a desire to learn about the host country and to meet people from other cultures’ (Scudamore, 2013:14). Michel (2010:358) defines this ‘cultural mobility’ as ‘sharing views (or life) with people from other cultures, for better understanding that the world is not based on a unique, linear thought’.  


Coursework brief summary extracted from the complete brief:

Civil Engineering is an expansive industry with projects across many subdisciplines (i.e. Bridges, Buildings, Coastal & Marine, Environmental, Geotechnical, Highways, Power including Renewables. In a group students are required to consult with an international mentor and investigate civil engineering (buildings & structures) in the mentor’s home country. Each student should select a different example. These can be historical projects, current projects or projects planned for the future, particularly those projects that are addressing the climate emergency. Students will then complete two tasks: 


Time frame and structure: 

1. Opening lecture covering:

a. Reasoning for coursework with reference to transnational engineering employers and examples of international engineering projects and work across national boundaries. 

b. Links between engineering, people, and planet through the example of biomimicry in civil engineering design (Hayes, Desha, & Baumeister, 2020) or nature-based solutions in the context of civil engineering technology (Cassina and Matthews ,2021). 

c. Existence of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as RedR UK (2023) Water Aid (2023) and Bridges to Prosperity (2023). 

d. The use of corporate social responsibility (CSR) to address problematic issues such as human rights abuses (Human Rights Watch, 2006) and bribery and corruption (Stansbury and Stansbury) in global engineering projects.  


2. Assign students to groups:

a. Identify international mentors. After checking the module registration list, identify international students and invite them to become a mentor to their peers.  Seek not to be coercive and explain that it is a voluntary role and to say no will have no impact on their studies. In our experience, less than a handful have turned down this opportunity. The peer international students are then used as foundation members to build each group of four first-year students. Additional international student mentors can be sourced from outside the module to assist each group. 

b. Establish team contracts and group work processes using the Carnegie Mellon Group Working Evaluation document


3. Allow for group work time throughout the module to complete the tasks (full description can be found in the complete brief). 


Assessment criteria: 

The coursework constitutes a 20% weighting of a 10-Credit elective module- Engineering & Society. The submission has two assessed components: Task 1) a group international poster with annotated sketches of buildings & structures (10% weighting); and Task 2) A short individual reflective writing report (10% weighting) that seeks to ascertain the students experience of engaging in a collaborative peer activity (process), and their views on their poster (product). Vogel et al, (2023, 45) note that the use of posters is ‘well-suited to demonstrating a range of sustainability learning outcomes’. Whilst introducing reflective writing in a first-year engineering course has its challenges, it is recognised that  reflective practice is an appropriate task for ESD- ‘The teaching approaches most associated with developing transformative sustainability values stimulate critical reflection and self-reflection’ (Vogel et al, 2023, 6). 

Each task has its own assessment criteria and process. Assessment details can be found in the complete coursework brief.  


Teaching reflection: 

The coursework has been undertaken by nine cohorts of first-year undergraduate civil engineers (N=738) over seven academic sessions between 2015-2024. To date this has involved (N=147) mentors, representing sixty nationalities. Between 2015-2024 the international mentors have been first-year peers (N=67); senior year undergraduate & post-graduate students undertaking studies in the department (N=58) and visiting ERASMUS & International students (N =22) enrolled on programmes within the department.  

Whilst the aim for the original coursework aligns with ESD (‘ESD is also an education in values, aiming to transform students’ worldviews, and build their capacity to alter wider society’ -Vogel et al ,2023:21) the reflective reports indicate that the students’ IC gain was at a perfunctory level. Whilst there were references to ‘a sense of belonging, ‘pride in representing my country’, ‘developing friendships’, ‘international mentors’ enthusiasm’ this narrative indicates a more generic learning gain that is known to help students acquire dispositions to stay and to succeed at university (Harding and Thompson, 2011). The coursework brief fell short of addressing the call ‘to transform engineering education curricula and learning approaches to meet the challenges of the SDGs’ (UNESCO,2021:125). Indeed, as a provocateur pedagogy, ‘ESD recognises that education in its current form is unsustainable and requires radical change’ (Vogel et al ,2023, 4).  

Given the above it is clear that the coursework requirement for peer collaboration and reflective practice aligns to three of the eight key competencies (collaboration, self-awareness, critical thinking) for sustainability (UNESCO, 2017:10). Scudamore (2013:26) notes the importance of these competencies when she refers to engaging home and international students in dialogue- ‘the inevitable misunderstandings, which demand patience and tolerance to overcome, form an essential part of the learning process for all involved’. Moreover, Beagon et al (2023) have acknowledged the importance of interpersonal competencies to prepare engineering graduates for the challenges of the SDG’s. Thus, the revised coursework brief prompts students to journey ‘through the mirror’ and to reflect on how gaining IC can assist their knowledge of, and actions towards the SDG’s. 



Beagon, U., Kövesi, K., Tabas, B., Nørgaard, B., Lehtinen, R., Bowe, B., Gillet, C & Claus Spliid, C.M .(2023). Preparing engineering students for the challenges of the SDGs: what competences are required? European Journal of Engineering Education, 48(1): 1-23 

Bourn, D and Neal, I. (2008). The Global Engineer: Incorporating Global Skills within the UK Higher Education of Engineers. Engineers against Poverty and Institute of Education. 

Einfalt, J., Alford, J & Theobald, M.(2022). Making talk work: using a dialogic approach to develop intercultural competence with students at an Australian university, Intercultural Education, 33(32):211-229 (Grandin and Hirleman 2009). 

Harding, J and  Thompson, J. (2011). Dispositions to stay and to succeed, Higher Education Academy, Final Report 

Higher Education Policy Unit .(2015). What do prospective students think about international students 

Human Rights Watch. (2006). Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates  

Michel, J. (2010). Mobility of engineers; the European experience, In UNESCO, Engineering: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities for Development, pp 358-360 

Sambell, K, McDowell, L and Montgomery, C.(2013). Assessment for Learning in Higher Education. London: Routledge. 

Scudamore, R. (2013). Engaging home and international students: A guide for new lecturers, Advance HE 

Stansbury, C. and Stansbury, N. (2007) Anti-Corruption Training Manual: Infrastructure, Construction and Engineering Sectors, International Version, Transparency International UK. Online.  

UNESCO. (2021). Engineering for Sustainable Development, delivering on the sustainable development goals,  

Universities UK. (2021). Internationalisation at home – developing global citizens without travel: Showcasing Impactful Programmes, Benefits and Good Practice,   

Vogel, M., Parker, L., Porter, J., O’Hara, M., Tebbs, E., Gard, R., He, X and  Gallimore,J.B .(2023).  Education for Sustainable  Development: a review  of the literature 2015-2022, Advance HE 


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Theme: Knowledge exchange, Universities’ and businesses’ shared role in regional development, Research, Graduate employability and recruitment

Authors: Alex Prince (Sheffield Hallam University) and Prof Wayne Cranton (Sheffield Hallam University)

Keywords: Innovation, SMEs

Abstract: The Sheffield innovation Programme led by Sheffield Hallam with the Growth Hub and the University of Sheffield, delivers bespoke R&D, consultancy and workshops, driving innovation in regional SMEs. In total, since 2016, our experts from across the University have supported over 400 projects with regional businesses, enabling them to grow, diversify and meet changing customer needs. Many projects lead to further collaborations such as KTPs and create new products, processes and market opportunities.



The Sheffield Innovation Programme (SIP) was set up in 2016 to support small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) from across the South Yorkshire region to access academic expertise, facilities and resources at Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Sheffield, to stimulate innovation and growth and to increase business competitiveness. The focus of this paper is on activities delivered by Sheffield Hallam University.

Sheffield Hallam University leads the programme, and with the £3.1m second phase of the programme also introducing two Innovation Advisors working for the Growth Hub. The programme is jointly funded by; the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the universities, South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority and the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), providing support at zero-cost to businesses. It runs until June 2023.


The programme has now reached a milestone of 400 projects with regional SMEs, enabling them to grow, diversify and meet changing customer needs. To date over 150 academics have worked with companies. Of these 76 staff who are based in Sheffield Hallam’s engineering research centres have worked with 85 companies. 

SIP supports time for academics to undertake work with clients. It uses funding to enable delivery of R&D consultancy services to the businesses, helping to establish new products or services, resolve problems or advise on appropriate routes forwards.


The main output is ‘business assist’ interventions- a minimum of 12 hours of engagement.  These are delivered through bespoke R&D-based consultancy and workshops. The average intervention is approx. 7 days, recognising the potential time required to work with a client meaningfully.

Sheffield Hallam has implemented a light-touch internal approval process for clients where support may take more than 10 days of time. Such investment needs to demonstrate significant added value- for the client in terms of market opportunity or jobs created, or potentially for us also in terms of joint funding proposal development.

SIP has now resulted in 8 successful KTP applications for Sheffield Hallam with more in the pipeline, plus other Innovate UK and commercial consultancy activities, plus considerable reputational benefit regionally.

SIP, Innovation and Engineering expertise

SIP has developed a proven model for collaborating with SMEs, buying out the time of engineers and other academic experts so they can work with companies.

The core areas of academic support are the expertise within the Materials Engineering Research Institute (MERI), the National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering (NCEFE), and the Sport Engineering Research Group (SERG) and Design Futures (Product and Packaging).

In a region with a very low level of innovation and investment in R&D, the project provides an important entry point to the University’s expertise and a platform for longer term projects and creates opportunities for early career researchers, graduate interns and KTP associates.  Project delivery connects our engineering expertise with specialisms across the University resulting in collaborations with designers, biosciences and materials, and supports targeted engagement with sectors for example glass and ceramics and the food industry.


  1. Thermotex Engineering a family-run business which operates in the field of thermodynamics and specialises in manufacturing thermal insulation. The company required physical evidence of how a fabric performed in order to make a bid for a major project based in Arctic Russia. We undertook accelerated weathering testing on the durability of a fabric material when it was exposed to cycles of freezing and thawing, UVB radiation and high temperature / relative humidity. ‘This solution provided us with indicative product testing for unusual characteristics, access to laboratory equipment, and performance of specific tests,’ said Paige Niehues, the Commercial and Technical Executive at Thermotex Engineering.
  2. Sheffield-based SME Safety Fabrications Ltd manufactures fall protection and building access solutions. This includes roof top anchoring systems that allow roped access (e.g., abseiling) at height.  The company wanted to develop a new davit arm and socket system that could be used on tall structures to improve rope access for building maintenance. Their unique product idea avoided permanent obstruction on roof tops and allowed for easy installation and removal.  MERI worked with Safety Fabrications Ltd to design different davit arm configurations which would satisfy the complex needs of the BS specification. “Working with engineering specialists within the university allowed us to theoretically explore a range of options prior to manufacture & physical testing.” John Boyle, Managing Director at Safety Fabrications Limited
  3. Equitrek provides an excellent example of cross disciplinary working and progression of relationships with a company. In summary our design expertise enabled the company to manufacture new horse boxes targeting entry into the American market and has led to longer term KTPs.  The KTP has enabled Equi-Trek to enhance all aspects of their new product development processes, including ergonomics, spatial design, technical analysis and manufacturing.
  4. Sheffield Hallam’s National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering helping local business Dext Heat Recovery, who worked with restaurant chains including Nando’s and Frankie and Benny’s, to develop a heat exchanger to work in industrial kitchens – reducing energy costs and environmental impact.
  5. Guildhawk employs thousands of translators across the world for hundreds of clients . A project with SIP led to a KTP. At the SHU Innovation Conference 2021. Jurga Zilinskiene MBE, the CEO, told delegates in her keynote address that the KTP helped create an extraordinary SaaS platform that for the first time will help businesses of all sizes to manage people in a fast, easy and secure way.  The partnership resulted in the launch of new software products, Guildhawk Aided, Text Perfect and Guildhawk Voice avatars.


Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

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